Behold the mud kitchen
I first came across the concept for a mud kitchen at this magical little play space at our local Audobon Society. There was a whole playground made from objects in nature. The best part was a sweet little wooden kitchen area complete with pots and pans, wooden spoons and a sand box. Rosie was an infant, strapped to my chest and sleeping through all the fun, and Belle played for what seemed like hours (maybe it was 30 min? But still, she was 3, so nothing had held her attention this long until now!) I was in awe. It was such a simple idea – how had I never thought to make an outdoor play kitchen? It seemed so obviously perfect for any kid who likes to play outside, dig in the dirt and make messy creations. So….pretty much all kids. I decided right then and there that we had to have a mud kitchen!
How ours came to be
I started looking online and making plans in my head that very day. I found some adorable pictures and inspiration on Instagram, but every time I dug deeper to find out who made them and how fast I could buy one, I learned they were made in Australia or Germany and didn’t ship to the US. How was no one here in the US making these things!? I gave up searching and just kept thinking about it. Finally, two years later, I held my husband hostage one Saturday afternoon armed with a very rough sketch and said “we need this, please build it.” Once I have a vision there’s really no stopping me.
Spring was fast approaching – which is Ben’s busiest time of year. He often leaves the house at 5am and doesn’t get home until sometimes 8pm or later. It’s a lot of solo-parenting on my part and with a then 4.5 year old and almost 2 year old, I was praying this mud kitchen would make spring time a whole lot easier. Spoiler alert: it did!
What we used
First things first, don't assume you have to be crafty or handy to make this. You don't. If you know someone who can operate a drill and a handsaw, you can make this/they can make it for you. VERY easily. All we used for building materials were two wood pallets, which we got for free from our local garden center, and screws and nails. One pallet is the back of the kitchen, and the other was cut in half and used to make the top/kitchen counter area and two legs in the front.
Accessories are key!
Kids like to play with real stuff. When I can't find my measuring cups in the kitchen, I find them in the Play-Doh bin or the bath tub. So for this project, I went to Ocean State Job Lot and bought a whole load of real kitchen supplies for about a dollar a piece. I found two metal kitchen bowls for the sinks, measuring cups, metal scoops, salt and pepper shakers (to fill with sand and use for sprinkles), wooden spoons, some terracotta pots and bases (which are perfect for mud pies). It all came together pretty quickly – by the time I got home from buying all the fun stuff, Ben had the whole thing mostly built and the girls (myself included) were beyond excited.
The next day, Belle and I went to a cute little antique store nearby that’s basically like an indoor yard sale and we found even more awesome accessories: two wood crates for shelving/storage/their pretend oven, some old fashioned frying pans, a flour sifter, a tin pail, and the CUTEST little tin letters, one for each of them so for the rest of time there would be no arguing over who got which sink. I think I spent $50 total on all of our supplies. Ben used some old stumps from the firewood pile to create some other cool spots to display flower pots, and one to make a little step stool for Rosie so she could reach her sink.
Must have water and dirt
We bought one of those whiskey barrel wood planters from Home Depot to use as our dirt storage bin (because you have to have constant access to dirt in a mud kitchen) and I ordered a rain catcher from Amazon so the girls could fill up their own buckets with rain water instead of hose water (our water bill thanks me). Bonus: we use the rainwater to water our garden beds, too.
As the spring and summer went on, we added some potted plants that the girls could cut flowers from and use to decorate their mud pies and cupcakes, or to make potions with. Our raised garden beds are only a few feet away and spare cucumbers, herbs and green beans make for excellent ingredients, as well. We added a simple sand box right next to it so they’d have sand to play with, too. The kids were cranking out mud creations day after day, and I quickly realized they needed a little table so we could have actual mud feasts.
I had seen those big wooden spools online in my mud kitchen research, but I had no idea what they were called or even used for, but thanks to google I figured out they’re used for electrical wire. Turns out, most municipal electric companies have tons and give them out for free - just call and ask, or show up with an SUV. Then I remembered a friend of mine whose family owns a local electrical repair company, so I sent her a text with a photo of what I was looking for, and later that day one appeared in my driveway. That’s a real friend, folks.
Also, the hole in the middle of the spool makes for the perfect umbrella holder, which was a huge bonus once summer time hit.
...And that’s pretty much it. Little by little we’ve added to the space itself and we even have more plans to add a whole other section this spring so we'll have more space to create when friends come over. The nuts and bolts of this project are super simple and it’s entirely worth the very minimal effort it takes to create it.
When I say that this portion of our yard and even our house is the most played with area, I’m not exaggerating one singe bit. Our kids play in this mud kitchen for hours on end. Their creativity is out of this world and watching them create things out there is just the best. I relax on the bench with my coffee or tea and just watch. Whether it’s 7am or “just five more minutes!” at the end of a long day, it’s the very best time of day. All is calm. All is quiet. No one is fighting. Everyone is peaceful.
Last summer, right after Rosie turned two, I caught her singing as she was playing: “makin a mud pies, see see see” – it was the sweetest thing and she still sings it every single time she plays out there. This magical little portion of our yard brings us all so much happiness and I’m certain that one day, when they’re all grown up and they think back to their childhood, both girls will hum Rosie’s sweet tune as they remember how much fun they had in their little mud kitchen.